I warned audiences back in September that Nevada Conservatory Theatre’s go at Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia would be a heady affair. That said, going into it in a post-tooth-extraction, hydrocodone-fueled haze may not have been a wise idea. Then again, maybe it was.
If Stoppard’s intent was for audiences to begin blurring the lines within the time-space continuum, I was able to do just that, thanks in part to both the cast and the little white pills raging through my circulatory system. Though I attempted to use what was left of my brain to make cloudy sense of the scenes, in the end, I felt like I’d been punched in the face. But, in all fairness, I’d felt that way before leaving my house hours earlier.
The open, airy set is as welcoming as you’d expect from a picturesque old English manor, and it’s quickly filled with a well-tailored cast (costumed by Katrina Hertfelder) projecting their newly acquired British accents throughout UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre. From there, it’s up to the audience to keep up, and to the actors to get us as worked up about Fermat’s last theorem as Stoppard’s characters are.
The play’s action alternates between two time periods. In the 1809-12 setting, Septimus Hodge (Jordan Bondurant) tutors precocious 13-year-old Thomasina Coverly (Angela Janas), a calculus phenom who opens the play by quizzing her tutor on the meaning of “carnal embraces.” Coverly also happens to be college buddies with Lord Byron, an offstage character integral to the play’s alternating plotlines. In the modern era, author Hannah Jarvis (Lauren T. Mack) battles Bernard Nightingale (Brooks Asher), a cocky intellectual who, like Jarvis, is conducting research on the mysteries contained at the Sidley Park residence.
The play’s most winning moments arise in the instances of surprising time overlaps. Props haphazardly left in one time era — a half-eaten apple, a tortoise — are seamlessly picked up in the other. Eventually, the time periods begin collapsing inward on one another, as the actors from both centuries — directed by Christopher Edwards — begin sharing the stage.
Considered one of the great contemporary plays of our age, Arcadia banks on the careful unraveling of secrets, slowly building to bigger reveals — with clever humor sprinkled in along the way. This production took a rather even-keeled approach that dulled the impact some, but it was the standout cast members, such as Angela Janas as the disarmingly excitable Thomasina, and John Maltese as surprisingly passionate (albeit about mathematical biology) Coverly, that helped focus my otherwise compromised brain.
ARCADIA Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m., through Dec. 9; Judy Bailey Theatre at UNLV, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, pac.unlc.edu, $10-$30.